The Ronald McDonald House Charities: A home away from home

Lisa Suprenand, chief executive officer of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Tampa Bay area, loves to stop by one of her company’s four houses for a casual visit. Out of her normal business suit, away from the paperwork of strategic planning, clad in jeans and sneakers, Suprenand relishes the chance to meet and chat with current families.

Lisa Suprenand, CEO

“For me, it’s important to visit the houses so I can breathe in the mission. There’s something that really connects you, and grounds you, when you’re there and can experience even just a small interaction with a family,” says Suprenand.

The mission of RMHC revolves around families. The organization supports families so that they can support their children. Although RMHC is best known for its overnight facilities hosting families with hospitalized children, from preemies in the newborn intensive care unit to 21-year-old victims of traffic accidents, RMHC has evolved to include a wide range of support.

RMHC also offers day-use programs where parents of pediatric patients can grab a free meal, a cup of coffee or do a load of laundry while at the hospital all day. It offers on-site schooling opportunities for siblings or patients whose education has been put on hold and they’re launching a wellness and mental health program to support families beyond the initial hospitalization period.

“Well-being has long been a part of our grassroots approach but we’re moving forward by partnering with counseling services. Based on a recent study revealing that families, and siblings, with a child in the hospital have worse PTSD than the child themselves. We want to ensure that we’re providing not simply the basics of what a family needs but everything to bring them through their challenges successfully,” Suprenand says. “We’re trying to provide all those wraparound services to help our families persevere.”

RMHC arrived in the Bay area in 1980, opening its first 18-bedroom house adjacent to the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, in St. Petersburg, adding two more homes serving Florida’s pediatric hub in the intervening decades. The Davis Island facility, near Tampa General Hospital, opened in 1992. Together, the four Bay area homes host more than 2,000 families a year, offering up to 7,000 daytime meals and countless hours of guidance and support.

The mission of RMHC breaks across all barriers—language, color, nationality, economic status—as all the families past and present are united by the common element of an uncommon tragedy: how to manage your day-to-day activities when your child is hospitalized. How to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy so you can focus on the health of your child.

“We really want to be a leader in family-centered care,” Suprenand says. “Regardless of someone’s income, we are the closest place to the hospital. We’re here to keep the family together to ensure that the family is close to their child while they heal because we believe that children and families need to be together. Siblings need to be there. And we’re not income-based at all. You can stay if you have no money and your child is in the hospital, you can stay if you have lots of money and your child is in the hospital. We welcome a variety of people who stay with us from all different backgrounds for that single reason, alone.”

With RMHC’s dedication to their community of families, it’s no wonder there are many ways for members of our wider community to get involved. One popular way is through the meal program. As Suprenand explains, “It’s so great to have our meal groups back in the kitchen, as COVID [-19] forced us temporarily to transition to a drop-off program. As a meal group, you decide the menu. You bring all the food and supplies on-site and you cook in our community kitchen. It’s a great family, or volunteer, activity and there’s a great need for volunteers, especially on weekends. Nothing beats a home-cooked meal for our families during their stay.”

There are many other ways to get involved, like attending RMHC’s annual spring black-tie gala—May 20, theme Encanto!—or any of the popular golf weekend tournaments. Volunteers can always contribute bags or gifts for newborns, snacks or toiletry bags, donate toward Superkids, an ongoing Wish List or the adopt-a-room program. RMHC makes constant, creative efforts to include our wider community in the Tampa Bay area, as any of us, at any time, can suddenly be in need of their services.

As Suprenand makes clear, RMHC is for everyone in need: “We’re here for any pediatric patient that is receiving life-changing, or in some cases, lifesaving, critical care. Their families, and themselves as outpatients, are welcome at our houses. Our modern ideas on health have expanded greatly, so we also serve children who suffer from some of the issues that may not immediately come to mind like eating disorders, OCD, anxiety or other types of health issues that are oftentimes, by the time they’re teens, exacerbated by their circumstances. These children, too, really need specialty care, and support, for their families. The Tampa Bay area has so many wonderful clinics and specialty medical services, and we receive those families as well.”

All in all, Tampa Bay’s Ronald McDonald House Charities works to fulfill its original mission: to be a home away from home when a family needs it the most.

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